Denver's Craig Morton, the National Football League's top-rated passer, could only stand on the sideline and watch today as Cincinnati's Ken Anderson riddled the vaunted Denver defense with a diversified attack that gained 571 yards.
The Bengals beat the Broncos, 38-21, at Riverfront Stadium for their fourth straight victory. It kept Cincinnati atop the AFC Central with a 9-3 record, two games ahead of Pittsburgh. Denver is 8-4 and tied with Kansas City for the AFC West lead.
"The man (Anderson) was on today," said Morton, who didn't play because of a right shoulder sprained a week ago against Tampa Bay. "He always threw to the right receiver."
The right receiver usually was a tight end or a back as Anderson, who began the game as the NFL's second-rated passer behind Morton, completed 25 of 37 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for another score and didn't throw an interception.
The Broncos led the NFL in pass defense and total defense, but it didn't show as Anderson used a variety of formations, mostly disdained throwing to his wide receivers and moved the Bengals easily most of the game.
Of the 25 passes he completed, 20 were to tight ends or running backs. Tight end Dan Ross caught seven for 123 yards and the other tight end, M.L. Harris, caught four for 59 yards. Fullback Pete Johnson caught six, one for a seven-yard touchdown, and halfback Charles Alexander caught three, with a 65-yard touchdown reception in the fourth period.
Cincinnati's most effective formation was a two tight end alignment with only the 250-pound Johnson in the backfield with Anderson.
"The Denver defense took away all of the deep stuff to our outside receivers, so we had to go underneath," said Anderson, who had the second best yardage passing day of his career. "I just read the coverages and threw to the open man. It's taken us a while to get used to this offense, but now we're set in it."
With Morton unable to play, Steve DeBerg quarterbacked the Broncos. He completed 21 of 34 for 305 yards and two touchdowns. He was good on 11 of 18 for 164 yards and both touchdowns in the final period, after Cincinnati had the game locked up.
DeBerg was intercepted twice by Ken Riley and sacked four times for 36 yards in losses. The interceptions gave Riley 51 in his career, the most of any active AFC player. The Bengals also held the Broncos to 68 yards rushing.
"We just concentrated on shutting down their run," said defensive tackle Gary Burley, "because we knew we could get to their passer."
Cincinnati put the visitors away early, jumping to a 28-7 first half lead. The Bengals scored twice in the first quarter, the first time on a 39-yard run by Johnson on a dive play off tackle.
"The hole was so big, six people my size could have gone through it," he said of the opening in the line created by tackle Mike Wilson and guard Max Montoya. Johnson's previous longest run this season had been only 16 yards. His 39-yarder also was Cincinnati's longest gain on a rushing play this season.
Anderson threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Johnson five minutes later and Jim Breech's two extra points put the Broncos ahead, 14-0.
DeBerg's 44-yard pass to Steve Watson set up a five-yard touchdown run by Rob Lytle to get one of the touchdowns back. But the Bengals responded with two more first half touchdowns -- Anderson's two-yard run and his seven-yard pass to Cris Collinsworth -- and the Broncos couldn't keep up.
Cincinnati's nine victories are its most since it went 10-4 in 1976.
"Football is fun here in Cincinnati again," said Anderson.